Twenty-five year old Swati Kanolkar works in the Food and Beverages department of a well-known hotel. She works in shifts so keeping late hours was a regular part of her job. Not anymore. Since she has given up the late evening shift, she had to take a salary cut.
“I don’t feel safe. I want to reach home before nightfall. There are rowdies on the road at night,” said Swati, who used to count herself amongst the “brave” ones until some months ago.
Many of the women and some men spoken to say Goa has become an unsafe state. According to them, the “rowdy culture” has seen an increase in recent years.
Shanta denied revealing her full name as she’s scared. “There are too many criminals contesting the elections. There is already so much drugs, gambling and alcohol. Goans are not like this. We are peace loving people,” she told Outlook. According to her, the rowdies are boldened because of their connections to political parties. “There is so much crime in Goa. People are scared so they don’t go to the police,” she said.
Out of the 301 candidates in fray including those from the 12 national and regional political parties and independents, 77 contestants are known to have criminal cases lodged against them. 12 candidates there are who have declared cases related to crimes against women including one who faces rape charges. Eight candidates have cases of attempt to murder slapped on them. All these account for a whopping 26 per cent of the electoral contestants in fray.
The exponential growth in the number of candidates with criminal charges pressed against them has become a worrying factor for the Goans. In 2007, these numbers stood at a meagre 2 per cent. In the 2017 elections the numbers had risen to 18 per cent while the 2022 assembly polls statistics indicate that at 26 per cent as a doubling of such candidates has been observed in every five years. A detailed analysis of the affidavits of all the candidates was done by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR – Goa). The doubling of candidates with criminal records is a trend that is catching on real fast, said sources.
Goa goes to polls on February 14.
“At this rate there will be a time when everyone contesting the polls will have a criminal record. This is the most unsettling thing for the state, as a majority of them are connected to drugs, illegal mining and criminal activities. Every citizen in Goa should be worried about this. Some where these criminal connections can also be international,” said a resident of Mormugoa, one of the red alert constituencies.
While the Congress Party with 17 candidates, has the highest number of contestants with declared criminal cases against them, the BJP as 10, Aam Aadmi Party 9 (AAP), Maharashtra Gomantak Party 6 (MGP), All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 4 and the Goa Forward Party (GFP) 1.
In the 2017 Assembly polls of the 251 candidates who contested, 38 had declared in the affidavits that they had criminal cases registered against them. According to Bharat Asodekar, the ADR coordinator in Goa, the number of red alert constituencies in Goa is amongst the highest in the country, pushing even Uttar Pradesh and Goa, way below.
For the poor the only thought they have is to take home some money for the daily ration. Shyam Salgaonkar has been waiting at the Aldonha tempo stand in Mapusa since 7 a.m. in the hope that he will get some business. For the 52-year old with a workman’s thickset frame and a face glistening with sweat, the day has been a “no starter”. All his days – since Goa eased the lockdown norms last year – have been the same. The snail-paced business lacks the tempo needed to fill hungry bellies at home.
“The BJP has made us poorer. It will take a long time to come out of this. I could be dead by then,” said Salgaonkar to Outlook. “Garib ko aur garib kiya. Itna corruption hai. Government garib ka nahi hai,” he said. (The poor have become poorer. There is a lot of corruptiom. The government is not for the poor.) A resident of Thivim, Salgaonkar feels that it is time the smaller parties are given a chance. “They have good candidates and they have risen from the ground like us. These big party candidates make money and do not even listen to us,” said the man whose angry raised voice makes a few passers-by halt in the tracks to check “out the matter”.
30-year old Mahadev Parab, a tempo driver, too is having a bad day. His meagre earning of Rs 300 will not suffice for the day. He purchased his vehicle some months ago on a loan in the hope of making some money. “That was a dream. I don’t think I will be free of debts and this tempo may never be mine,” narrated Parab. In his opinion nothing good can come for Goa if the same set of candidates are elected. “There has to be a change. Poor people like us need better lives. In Goa, even the poor people could afford three meals a day. But, not anymore. Getting even one meal is a difficult now,” said Parab to Outlook.
Unlike earlier times when people aired their opinions freely, this time they are guarded. Increasing poverty and the lack of money seem to have taken away their confidence. Both Salgaonkar and Parab and many like them want candidates who will listen to them and solve their problems. “These musclemen who are contesting the polls, care only about their earnings,” pointed out Eduard. “It is very scary that candidates with criminal records are increasing,” said Eduard. He too did not want to identify himself completely.
The office of the Chief Electoral Officer (Goa) has identified 12 constituencies as “red alert constituencies”. A red alert constituency is one where three or more candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves. These include Sanquelim, Pernim, Siolim, Cambarjua, Navelim, Mapusa, Calagute, Valpoi, Parvorim, Mandrem, Sanvordem and Mormugoa. They are maintaining a strict vigil on these constituencies to avoid any untoward incidents. “The lack of physical campaigning has eased our lives. Otherwise there would have been so many violent incidents,” said Eduard to Outlook.